One sunny judgement day

edit sunset tree the mountain goats

We Shall All Be Healed is an odd release, even for the Mountain Goats. When I first heard it, I thought it was songwriter John Darnielle’s weakest effort. Even by Darnielle’s standards, the lyrics were too dense, too fragmented. There was amazing imagery (“the dull pain that you live with isn’t getting any duller / there’s a closet full of almost-pristine videotape / documenting sordid little scenes in living color”) but I found it hard to find a real emotional connection to the characters. It seemed like Darnielle was hesitant in his storytelling. When I saw him live during the WSABH tour, he admitted that “Mole”, a song about a drug addict chained to his bed in intensive care, was actually about him, despite the song using the personal past tense, as in “I came to see you up there in intensive care.”

Now seen in context, WSABH seemed like a training exercise for Darnielle, who rarely before had written songs about his own personal experiences. His follow-up, The Sunset Tree took Darnielle’s newfound confidence in personal storytelling much further, into deeper and more profound areas. Based loosely around Darnielle’s childhood, The Sunset Tree is all about his attempt to escape an abusive household–a revealing prequel of sorts to the drug abuse and self-sabotage of his WSABH late-teenage years. Leading up to the release of WSABH, Darnielle may have already been mapping out The Sunset Tree. In this Peel Session track in February of 2003, Darnielle covers a Baby Dee song about a young child unfairly punished by his father for coming home late. It’s a simple, beautiful song full of repressed anger and devastating revelations: “I know you must have held me once / I saw a photograph / Safe and happy in your arms / A smiling god of wrath.” Darnielle could no doubt see a bit of his own stepfather in that “smiling god of wrath.” On the closing track to the album, Darnielle looks back, almost fondly, at a time he watched the horses run at the racetrack with this stepfather: “Sometimes I’ll meet you out there / lonely and frightened.”


~ by talkmyshitagain on July 8, 2009.

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